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West Virginia's Birthday Recalls A State Born Of Civil War

NPR icon by NPR Staff
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Vicki Smith

One hundred and fifty years ago this week, West Virginia became the 35th state in the union.

Born in in 1863, the middle of the Civil War, the state was created by patriots who didn't want to join the Confederacy — no mean feat considering the political climate of the time.

Western Virginians were fed up with their eastern-dominated government, says Joe Geiger, director of the West Virginia State Archives. He says they also felt they didn't get fair funding for education and infrastructure.

On top of that, western Virginians opposed slavery — only 4 percent of the state's slaves lived there.

"You would naturally assume that there was an opposition to slavery in western Virginia, and indeed there was," Geiger tells Weekend Edition Sunday host Rachel Martin. "But this was largely due to economic and political reasons, not moral ones."

So when the easterners in Richmond seceded from the union, western Virginians seized the opportunity to organize.

"I firmly believe that without the Civil War, we wouldn't have a West Virginia," Geiger says.


Interview Highlights

How West Virginia became a state

"What these folks do in Wheeling, these folks who are so determined to remain loyal to the union ... the first thing they do is try to create a union government, a replacement government for Virginia. In the end this is going to be key to West Virginia statehood, because according to the constitution, in order for a new state to be created from an existing state, the existing state has to give its permission."

What kind of people are West Virginians?

"West Virginia is the kind of state where you walk down the street and you speak to every person you see. You make eye contact, you smile; and I understand if you did that in New York, you might be looked at a little strangely.

"People care about one another, they take care of each other. We've had certainly different disasters and tragedies in our history, and the first thing that you see in response is people banding together to help one another."

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